The Red Wings played that role to perfection Friday in a 4-2 victory versus Western Conference heavyweight the Chicago Blackhawks.
Howard saw his first National Hockey League action since injuring a knee December 20 at Tampa Bay.
While the Red Wings continue fighting for a top three draft pick, the Blackhawks are fighting for a division title. Chicago, which hasn't lost on the road since dropping a 3-1 decision at San Jose on January 31, had strings of seven consecutive overall victories and four home wins in a row halted when it suffered a 1-0 setback against Anaheim on Thursday. He has a team-high 17 goals.
Tomas Tatar scored twice, and Andreas Athanasiou and Xavier Ouellet added goals for Detroit. The Blackhawks, who were without Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya for this one - they were given a rest night - have lost two in a row for the first time since late January.
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Artemi Panarin and Trevor Van Riemsdyk scored for the Blackhawks. Just outside the Detroit zone, Panarin slid a backhand pass through defenceman Danny DeKeyser's leg to Kane, who carried the puck into the Detroit end. Shortly after the penalty was over, Nick Schmaltz broke in on Howard courtesy of another good pass by Kane. Using Tatar as a screen, Ouellet drove a rising shot from the point past goalie Corey Crawford for his third goal of the season.
The first minute of the power play was more of the same from the Wings, continued attempts to gain the zone followed by a pass or two and eventually a Chicago clear without even a hint of danger. With Howard's return, Detroit assigned rookie Jared Coreau - who went 5-4-3 with a 3.46 goals-against average and a team-leading two shutouts - to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.
On Tatar's victor at 15:17 of the second period, Crawford stopped Zetterberg's shot but Tatar was on the doorstep to smack the rebound home after missing on his first chance. But for the most part after that, the Blackhawks got quiet.
Tatar completed the scoring at 15:31 of the third period.
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NOTES: Including this game, Chicago will close out the regular season with 16 games over a 30-day span. Facing his former Detroit teammates for the first time, left winger Tomas Jurco skated on a line with Marian Hossa and Marcus Kruger.
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